Humans weren't the only ones left stranded by the train drivers' strike on Friday. Here, the bulldog "Dolly" waits at Hamburg's Altona station, wondering if the next train will ever come.Foto: DPA
German train drivers walked off the job on Friday morning in the wake of a court ruling that gave the green light for a limited strike on local and regional trains. Friday's strike lasted from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and left tens of thousands of commuters stranded across the country.
All of Germany was affected by the strikes. In Stuttgart some local trains were completely removed from the schedule. Around 330,000 passengers travel the S-Bahn in the larger area of Stuttgart each day. The long-distance connection between Stuttgart, Karlsruhe and Munich was postponed.
Hamburg was also hit hard, with many commuters opting to take the bus rather than wait in long lines at S-Bahn stops. Bavaria saw the loss of one of two regional and local trains, the former running every two hours and the latter at 40 to 60 minute intervals. An emergency plan was put into effect at 4 a.m. in the capital of Berlin, where fewer than 60 percent of the trains were running. Some lines were running at regular 20 minute intervals and others at 60.
The legality of the strike was determined at a labor court in the eastern German city of Chemnitz, which issued its ruling at 2 a.m. on Friday morning, permitting the German train drivers union GDL to go forward with a strike on local and regional trains nationwide. Long-distance trains, including the country's intercity and ICE high-speed rail networks, and freight transports, the court decided, were forbidden from participating in the strike.
The leading judge in the case said the court had sought to find a balance between supporting the right of the train drivers to strike while minimizing the economic damage. In the run-up to the work stoppage, German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee warned in SPIEGEL that "a strike could have a devastating effect on the economy and the current economic growth."
Deutsche Bahn, the state-owned train system challenging the GDL in the labor dispute over wages and tariffs, decided ahead of the decision -- and in preparation for a broader strike -- to cancel one-third of its long-distance trains. It had also prepared an emergency plan to keep the nation's trains running on a pared-down schedule. Spokesperson Gunnar Meyer said Deutsche Bahn planned to keep half of the country's 19,000 regional trains running by using non-GDL drivers.
GDL union boss Manfred Schell has been locking horns for months with Deutsche Bahn CEO Hartmut Mehdorn now on the issue, with neither side ready to come to a final agreement. And on Thursday, Schell challenged Deutsche Bahn to reassess its position and come up with a new offer for train drivers by the beginning of next week.
Schell is demanding a 31 percent pay increase to bring train drivers up to the levels his union claims its European counterparts are paid. "If they are not able to do this," Schell said, "then they have to be prepared for further labor disputes." Currently, starting train drivers with Deutsche Bahn earn €1,970 ($2,781) per month, but the union is demanding a beginning wage of €2,500. The union also wants to have its own tariff agreements with the passenger rail and logistics company.
Deutsche Bahn has refused to meet that demand, but has repeated its offer for GDL to join in with the agreement that it made in July with the Transnet and GDBA railway workers unions that Schell had turned down at that time. However, Deutsche Bahn made a new offer last week after lengthy negotiations with Schell: Drivers were offered a 5 percent wage increase if they were willing to work two more hours per week. And train drivers willing to work even longer hours could get an increase of up to 9.5 percent, paid out in the form of wages and overtime bonuses. But Schell rejected the offer out of hand.
On the eve of the strike, Deutsche Bahn issued a statement criticizing Schell's recent verbal affronts against the national railway, saying that he appeared to be "losing touch with reality." Deutsche Bahn estimates that the strike on local and regional trains and the loss of passengers is costing the company €1 million a day in lost revenues.
GDL said Friday that if it doesn't reach a deal with Deutsch Bahn, the strike could resume on Monday.